Philadelphia was one of the first American cities to conduct a public Yizkor ceremony for Holocaust victims and erect a monument in their honor. This year's program will include remarks from guest speaker James Young, readings and musical performances.
The April 27 community Yom HaShoah ceremony honoring the memory of the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust marks the 50th anniversary of both the tribute and its setting.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has sponsored this annual program of inspirational remarks, readings and musical performances since 1964. Philadelphia was one of the first American cities to conduct a public Yizkor ceremony for Holocaust victims and to erect a monument in their honor.
The Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs, at 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, was designed by artist Nathan Rapoport. It was presented to the city of Philadelphia by the Association of Jewish New Americans in cooperation with Federation.
The memorial has inscriptions in both English and Hebrew that exhort viewers to remember those who perished in massacres like Babi-Yar and in concentration and labor camps like Drancy, Flossenberg, Gross-Rosea, Klooga, Ewow-Janowska, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Neuengamme, Auschwitz, Belzic, Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Chelmno, Dachau, Ponary, Ravensbruck, Sachsenhausen, Sobibor, Stutthof, Theresienstadt, Treblinka and Westerbork.
The sculptor’s words, inscribed on the statue’s base, are particularly poignant.
“In their deepest agony they clung to the image of humanity, and their acts of resistance in the forests and ghettos redeemed the honor of man. Their suffering and heroism are forever branded upon our conscience and shall be remembered from generation to generation.”
The monument has special significance for the first and second generation of Holocaust survivors who cannot visit the graves of their departed loved ones. With each passing year, the survivor community is decreasing, increasing our communal responsibility to honor and recall those who paid the ultimate price for the “crime” of being Jewish.
“Memory and Action: Who Will Remember” is the theme of this year’s program, which begins promptly at 1 p.m. The guest speaker will be James E. Young, director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he teaches English and Hebrew/Judaic Studies.
He is the author of At Memory’s Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture, The Texture of Memory, which won the 1994 National Jewish Book Award, and Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust. He is currently putting the finishing touches on a new book, A Vicarious Past: My Received History of the Holocaust.
In 1997, Young was appointed by the Berlin Senate to the five-member Findungskommission for Germany’s national “Memorial to Europe’s Murdered Jews,” which was dedicated in May 2005.
In 2003, he was appointed by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to the jury for the World Trade Center Site Memorial competition, won by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, which was completed and dedicated in September 2011. He continues to serve on the Academic Advisory Board of the National 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City.
Young has written widely on public art, memorials and national memory. His articles, reviews and op-ed essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Forward, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and other publications around the world.
The Yom HaShoah program will feature musical performances by the Philadelphia Boys and Girls Choirs and a violin solo from Philip Kates, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Program highlights will include a memorial candle lighting ceremony, a presentation of wreaths and brief remarks by Jewish community leaders, clergy from many faith communities and legislators. Free bus transportation for groups is available if ordered in advance.
“One of the additional purposes of the annual Yom HaShoah ceremony is to educate younger generations of the significance of this tragedy and the important lessons that can be drawn from this experience,” said Beth Razin, manager of Holocaust and Israel programs for Federation.
She noted that the Dorothy Freedman Memorial Conversation with a Survivor program, scheduled for the morning of Sunday, April 27, affords middle and high school students an opportunity to participate in informal conversations with Holocaust survivors.
Limited openings are still available for this program, which will run from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Services Building. RSVP by March 31 to Beth Razin at 215-832- 0536 or email [email protected]
In the event of rain, the program will be held on the same date and time at the Harrison Auditorium at the Penn Museum, 3260 South St., Philadelphia.
The Yom HaShoah program is sponsored by the Memorial Committee for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors of Philadelphia.
For more information, call Beth Razin at 215-832-0536.